Thursday, March 28, 2019

2019 Preview - Value vs. Contract



Welcome to opening day!!! Baseball is here and the Phillies look to contend again. They won 80 (it was an ugly road at the end) and improvements + use of a few what ifs look to get them to 87, probably 90-94. I started this entry about two weeks ago with the question, “Is this a make-or-break year for everyone on the roster?” However, this turned into more of a season preview as I expanded and edited. The answer to my initial question is: not everyone but the roster is becoming expensive. Arbitration, extensions, guys entering free agency soon (bullpen & Arietta) and a logjam of outfielders put almost everyone on the roster on alert. What will get them to below 87 or above 89? I have concluded that the rotation will be the biggest factor in determining success in combination with how Gabe Kapler manages games.

Rotation

Last year, the starting pitchers ruled the roost during the first five months. The team won most of the first 60 games and they recovered nicely after being swept out of San Francisco: with three consecutive series wins (6-3 record) against the tough NL Central. All of that was thanks to the rotation keeping them in games, especially after a late-April change to the back-end. Of course, Nola’s lasted all of 2019 and received third place in Cy Young voting. Behind Nola’s curve & control, Arietta did very until his knee started hurting. He and IF C. Hernandez played with an injury, and while that’s admirable, I prefer these guys hit the DL & heal than play thru it & be less or in-effective as a result. (Side note: If I later say something to the contrary, please redirect me here). Back to Arietta… he must last through the year as he’s due to get a third year if he’s effective.

Eflin will join Velasquez’s four-seamer and Pivetta’s curve to round out the rotation. They all had either break-out performances or seasons in the past and this is the last year they get to prove whether they stick. Arbitration is coming. And all of them - and most of the bullpen, too - are right-handed pitchers. If they’re effective, it’s no big deal. Last year thru mid-Aug, they were just that: 3.70 ERA thru 8/12 ranked 7th but their 4.19 ERA since ranked 17th in those respective spans. A lefty to help keep opposing hitters off-balance would probably have led to another 1-3 wins during that late-year skid plus another 4-6 during the 1st four months, which is why the Phillies pursued those guys.

Defense & Gabe

Helping the pitchers will be better fielding performances and those will lead to better [defensive] decisions by Kapler & the staff. No one will be happier about that than Jake Arietta (lol!) if that becomes the case. The micromanaging of the line-up, pitching changes, substitutions, and defensive alignment was due, in part, to poor performance overall, except in some cases, including Nola being pulled on O.D. With Gabe, I hope “old habits die hard” doesn’t apply in the case of better performance. If he relies more on the eye test than he did last year, my hope will probably come to fruition, assuming better performances play out.

Relievers

Most of these guys are in their early arbitration or last year of free agent deals. Most tired up down the stretch due to Gabe’s constant changes. I see more veterans already & expectations from Gabe are now established, so that should help. But I really think Gabe was more of a factor than performances. And a related side note, I personally am sick and tired of all the pitching changes & playing match-ups throughout baseball. I approve of the soon-to-be-implemented pitchers-facing-2-3-plus-batters rule. For the Phillies, MLB.com considers the bullpen a top-ten in the majors.

Pitching

In conclusion, this is probably the area the Phillies will improve on in July as the trade deadline approaches either Keuchel, Kimbrel or trade for a lefty. The team doesn’t have too much room to play with before hitting the competitive balance (i.e. luxury) tax.

Hitting

The balance in the line-up between sluggers, hitters and on-base guys was already much improved with the additions before landing Harper. The 1-2 punch with him and Hoskins has already demonstrated its danger to opposing pitchers and managers. That combo could yield over 75-85 HRs! And I speak for most Phillies fans, team personnel and Harper himself in hoping that Bryce gets off to a good start in year 1 of his 13-year deal. Segura & Realmuto are now into arbitration with extensions likely forthcoming and both are contact hitters. McCutchen can hit or get on base, so he could see time anywhere in the line-up. Now, he’s not blocking anyone on the 40-man roster offensively or defensively like Santana did, but Andrew does need to perform or he may be traded – Herrera, Cousins, Quinn and Williams have skills the Phillies would like to utilize. MLB.com also shares this line of thinking, good balance this year compared to mostly on-base guys last year… ranking the Phillies a top-ten offense.

It is the improvement here and coin-flip probabilities in the rotation’s potential (thanks to only Nola proven and Arietta being a veteran) that leads me to list them as the main factor in determining this year’s success. Gabe is also a factor (could be equal, more or less – depends on his in-game moves) but I think good performances will result in less strategy. Go Phillies!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

On Machado, Harper, Arietta and free agency

Manny Machado will spend at least the first two years of his potential HoF career out of the postseason, but the now former Oriole is used to that and now makes just over $1.15MM per paycheck. Harper is still unsigned and the rumors continue to swirl - now it's the Dodgers getting [back?] in on the action. I think he gets to the Phillies for 33MM/ yr over probably ten years but lots of details still in the works. Last year at this time, Jake Arietta signed for what could be 3 yr/ $75MM instead of 7 yr/ $120MM+. Alex Rodriguez recently chimed in on the long free agency and Cardinals Pitcher Adam Wainwright fears a mid-season walk-out.

On negotiations with Harper

I'd go with $32.5MM AAV for nine years (age 26-34) with opt-out after five years. If he decides to stay, he gets $5MM, and then then the options: $25MM or $5MM buyout at 550 PAs last year (or 475 & 625 PAs last two years) or $20MM mutual option at lesser amt of PAs. Boras is trying to get a 3-yr opt out and that actually may work in the Phillies favor long term: age 29-31 seasons may be the only time we contend. If we get Trout (unlikely but not rare either), we could contend longer - great bargaining chip to use on Harper and we then have two star outfielders (both former first-round picks BTW) for 2022. Harper & Trout in their primes together for at least 2 years. If we don't get Trout, we could still renegotiate with Harper or let him walk (we must be developing - cannot have a repeat of 2012-2017). In the former case, I am reminded of A-Rod's 10-yr/ $275MM contract, but that time, we'll probably do another opt-out after 3 years. At least, that's what I'd offer. In all likelihood, I'll be fine with 10-11 guaranteed with a player opt-out and the 25/20/5 option for one (maybe 2) years after the end of deal. Mutual buyout after 6 years could also work. I think both sides will be happy money & options/ opt-outs wise.

On CBA, free agency and player payment

Let's ignore that these star players make too much already and talk about how much control teams have for most in their primes (6 years before free agency) and how arbitration undervalues many of these players. Too much control, too much undervalue (look at Nola's recent negotiations) when these players would make 2-3 times as much on the free agent market. In my humble opinion, I'd favor one less year of control and arbitration a year earlier (so an avg of 1.5-2 yr of ML minimum instead of 2.5-3 yr) in exchange for signing deadline: Teams must submit proposal (options, opt-outs, and base salary - obviously would be based on negotiations) to FAs & MLB office by 4:30 PM ET 2/10 and the players must pick (sign offer sheet) and notify team & MLB by 1:30 PM ET 2/14. They could sign sooner, but once they do, a physical must be performed by 2:30 PM ET (submit results or certificate of completion to MLB by 4:30 PM that day) the 3rd day (e.g. sign 2/14, physical due 2/17; sign 2/11, physical due 2/14). Quite frankly, I'm getting tired of all the back and forth from teams on Harper.

On the possible lockout?

I do not think the players will walk out this year but sometime next year if more star FAs are unsigned in February, expect a strike that year.

If any news comes of Harper or any renegotiations of CBA, I'll provide an opinion. Enjoy the games!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Right before Spring Training

With the latest news of the trade for Realmuto & signing Nola to an extension and workouts beginning soon, the Phillies' offseason has officially ended - wait... What about Harper or Machado or others discussed in the media? They are now going to be like Arrieta last year - Spring signees.

Moves:

Phillies got OF McCutchen, C Realmuto, SS Segura and agreed to arbitration with - I think it was - 10+ players (including the deal with Nola - effectively $6MM this year with base + bonus and $8MM in second year makes this team friendly) and they did submit offers to the top free agents (reports are that the offers from all teams were much lower than expected but no specifics given) - we just have to wait. No left-handed starter nor additional bullpen help. However, they could still sign some folks in the early part of S.T., and they still have Hunter & Nicaso in the 2nd year of deals. They sent a few guys over in those trades - most notably Santana for Segura, allowing a better defense with Hoskins at 1B. Good depth in outfield and some depth at infield (either one could drastically improve/ trade of some of the arb players may be required if they sign Harper or Machado). Lots of names in the pitching category - quantity > quality this year. Not much depth at catcher with Alfaro gone but Knapp here.

Summary: Machado's comments haven't been well-received in Philly but at least we know going in... I'd welcome either of the two. Realmuto, Segura and even McCutchen give us hitters... walking is nice but hits are what drive in those runners. We didn't get a lefty starter or more outside bullpen help but the latter may still occur. This was a good off-season. Grade: B-. If we sign more, I'll revise the grade in another post.

Prospects:

They had to send over P prospect Sixto Sanchez for Realmuto so we'll see how that plays out in coming years. The Phillies publicly put the 20-year-old's work routine down, so if you're not going to be a bit more classy, then send him off - best of luck, Sixto! While we drafted well and Lehigh Valley ended last year with a .600 winning percentage, I don't see many call-ups that can help. Non-roster invitees and those on the 40-man are it for our internal depth - only Kimbrel, Moustakas, Harper and Machado can change the look.

Predicting the record:

This is a tough one without Harper or Machado. Let's try it:
  • Rough end to last year -> not the lessons to learn but it was never about getting to the playoffs last year. They should avoid a long stretch of constant loosing. No effect.
  • Schedule -> bit tougher this year but they did win in the third month last year, which was a great test against the NL Central. Little to no effect expected.
  • Defense -> it was ugly last year and much improved this year but performance-wise despite Arietta & "shift-gate" but not much effect this year (half a game improvement)

    So far, we've added maybe a win.

  • Rotation -> We don't have the depth to last the year if we have a lot of injuries. Assuming Nola & Arrieta (knee issue) perform on par with or better than last year and two of the next three spots get us through the 6th inning, we'll be ok. Let's subtract a half-win to account for low depth.
  • Bullpen -> Add a win to account for decent depth. Pitching overall is +0.5 wins but could be +2 wins if the rotation performs like much of last year in terms of low injury count and high reliability from the younger starters.
  • Offense -> we have a more balanced approach with Segura, McCutchen, Realmuto and Hoskins able to hit and improved play from Kingery vs Franco and OBP guys Hernandez (broken ankle most of last year) and Herrera. Depth here could change but right now, add four wins (Moustakas adds one (1) win and if we add Harper or Machado, add 2.5 to 3.5 wins).

    So far +5.5 wins (84-86 wins and 76-78 losses)
  • Kapler -> if he didn't do the micromanaging moves last year, we'd be mathematically viable til game ~160 last year. Some moves were justified but most were not and if that's the case this year, we're in for a rough ride. This will be the secondary deciding factor.
It looks like we have two camps depending on Kapler and each camp has up to 5 wins of variability due to Klentak. Best-case could be 99 wins but that's a huge jump. I'd say our ceiling with Mach. or Harper, good Gabe and depth lasting the year is 94 wins. Our floor is 79 without Mach or Harper, depth doesn't last, and Gabe is bad but the likelihood of progression from most guys puts our floor at 82-80 and our most likely to be 84-88 with inside track on 90. My call: 84-78. I will revise in the aforementioned separate post as signings occur and the roster takes shape.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Pre-All-Star-Break Check-In: trade rumors, potential representatives, Kapler, contention

The Phillies are ten games over .500 (1.5 GM back of the Braves & 2nd WC leaders) and I project them to enter the All-Star break with a 54-41 record despite a double header and all road games. They also have an 18-7 record in 1-R games, but mostly it's the players doing well. The rest of July except the last two days (Red Sox) is fairly easy with 3 vs the Padres (37-51), 3 vs the Dodgers (47-39), 4 @ Reds (38-49). This will allow them to buy at the deadline.

Who's going to the All-Star game in DC? Aaron Nola is a sure lock after winning his 11th game (T1 NL, T3 MLB) and if he continues to pitch well (top ten in most pitching categories), he'll likely be in the top 5 in the NL Cy Young vote! Herrera won't start in the game, but he, Dominguez, Hernandez, and Eflin have the strongest cases with Hoskins an outside shot. However, considering this is the first-year they're contending, two will be justified and also great (1st time since Lee & Brown went in 2013). Some players are having woes and inconsistencies but they're winning despite Kapler: yes, less questionable moves but they still happen. They are greater than the sum of their parts - not to the same degree as the Eagles, but close.

Congrats to those who are ultimately selected and good luck. As for the trade deadline, the Phils will buy and while Klentak's phone bill will likely be the most expensive out of all the GMs this month, he will only buy at the right price. With the Orioles requiring at least one of the team's big prospects for Machado, it would be best/ more likely to get him in FA and go after Beltre or Moustakas. Former Phillies Hamels and Happ are the lefty starters they could acquire but the rotation is doing well enough that acquiring a lefty reliever would be a better move.

An exciting month of baseball so far and it just got started - Go Phillies!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Phillies Pitching: Making the Right Call

Before I discuss the pitchers and their roles, a quick check-in about a week of games played: 4-5 record but 3-1 in 1-R/ extra-inning games. I'm not entirely sure that Kapler is doing a good job based on those numbers but it is a small sample. I think the 4-5 record is a better W-L record to use. The deep line-up is mostly responsible for the 3-1 record.

So, who is on the short leash in the rotation?

Nola is stretched out, and pulling him early is clearly the only sure-bet-bad-decision. Arrieta's debut was rough so he'll need his next start or two to be stretched. Both are allotted 7 innings, which is 2.5 turns through the line-up, at minimum, but more likely 3 turns through. Ben Lively and Vince Velasquez are looking terrible but worthy of a 'pen spot if they do not improve. They each can manage nearly one turn through the line-up, which is all you need of a long man. I'll give Vince two more starts. Ben gets a bit longer. And both get to face the line-up twice at most. Eickhoff gets at least a month upon his return and could also get the short leash. Eflin gets about a month but he, Leiter, Jr, and Thompson should, upon return, be in the bullpen due to performance history, depth, and/ or injury history. They get one turn through as long men (maybe 10-11 batters faced if crusing) and slightly longer (10-15 batters faced) if starting. And Nick Pivetta had a stellar performance the other night with Franco's 4 RBIs. Keep it up and he's on the longer leash. Otherwise, short leash and/ or AAA, then bullpen if he can't make it in the majors. And when Eschelman debuts, long leash!

And in the bullpen, who - besides the injured Hunter & Neshek - are your long men?

Garcia might. Morgan could. I'd say Neris is your traditional closer but could occasionally be used in non-save/ longer-save/ late-middle relief. Everyone else is a 2-to-4-out guy. Most of your long men are also former/ spot starters, as mentioned above. We need Hunter and Neshek back. So far, the bullpen is improving each series. Good to see. Let's hope they can produce outs efficiently.

Overall?

Overall, if guys are cruising, let them continue to face batters. The aforementioned numbers are merely guidance. If they don't cruise, then we have a problem, obviously, and the coaches will have to intervene. If no improvement, then it's to the 'pen for most and to AAA for some.

Good luck!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Phils Offense: Balancing Playing Time

Addendum 2 to my opinion & Phils on a roll - W 4/18 @ 9:45 AM EDT:

The Phillies are on the road playing the Braves and won in the 10th inning, continuing a good record in close &extra-inning games. Everyone is executing just enough to win - some struggles. The pitching is coming around and that made for some easy (read: "traditional") decisions. The offense has sputtered as of late but I'm not worried. I am concerned about J.P. Crawford's struggles against lefties... 2/27 against them. Small sample, short career and slow starts the last few promotions for him are mitigating factors, so I'll give him more time but Kapler will have to start thinking about resting him vs a lefty. And summarizing this article: We have 8 line-up spots and 12 players (7 and 10 not counting the catcher) - good depth! Florimon & Altherr are probably getting the least playing time - but expect them to get at least 2-4 GM per week.

Addendum to my opinion - Tu 4/10 @ 12:30 PM EDT:

Maikel Franco, by virtue of the last three years, does not deserve as many starts but his bat is hot and thus, needs to continue to see increased playing time. Williams' go-ahead, eventual-game-winning, PH HR shows he deserves more playing time despite a history of increased Ks & high BABIP. Right now, it appears that the odd men out are J.P. Crawford (extremely low AVG) and Aaron Altherr (age, experience, injury history, versatility) followed by Kingery (age, versatility), Santana (age/ experience, lower offensive ceiling than Hoskins) and Franco (history). The point still remains: deep line-up is making for tough decisions overall but I do see opportunity for more regular playing time for everyone.

------


I see that Herrera only started four games out of the first six, Franco drove in 4 R yesterday, Hoskins is hot, Crawford is not, and Williams is now curious as to what's driving [down] his [lack of] playing time. This needs to change but there's a balance. So, I'm taking a look at the offense to see who should get most of the starts:
  1. Pitchers will be the next entry - I answer "Who's on the short leash in the rotation?" and "Who besides Neshek & Hunter can go 2-3 innings?" although the former question is more important.
  2. This is easy: both Knapp & Alfaro should play equally as both deserve it - promising first impressions last year & the last two Septembers respectively and both had good Springs and can call a game - at least better than Rupp. How will Kapler find playing time here? It's primarily the schedule (the day game after a night game or limiting consecutive starts) but offensive production, pitcher requests (a la Halladay & Chooch 2010), match-ups, or health could play into the equation, especially late in games.
  3. Santana is your primary first baseman but as a veteran in his 30s, he needs and could handle two off days per week. This will help the OF defense a bit as Hoskins is only just starting to learn LF.
  4. Hernandez should get most of the starts here as he is certainly become productive over the last few years, it's his natural position and he could be traded. This is also Kingery's natural position so he needs to see some time here, too.
  5. Franco is the guy that - per the last few years - doesn't deserve to start more than four games per week except when his bat is hot plus the Phils are looking to trade him. He'll have to platoon with Kingery and possibly Crawford.
  6. Crawford needs to see his coaches right now because he's not hitting - all of the players, including JP, are working counts well though. Putting Kingery in here 1-2 times a week for now is the right move.
  7. Review of earlier post: Hoskins is a hot bat but his .471 avg will come down closer to .300 (probably ~.315). Defense needs usually require him to start at 1B once per week and be moved there for extra innings. Altherr is probably the best bet as back-up.
  8. Herrera should have started O.D. and should play nearly everyday with Altherr also backing him up. Perhaps Hernandez, who has played CF professionally, can start here once a week, too, but Herrera should be the first off the bench.
  9. Williams and Altherr will platoon and Kingery can play once a week here. I'd say Williams should play here most as Altherr will still get plenty of PAs despite both being young - Altherr has more experience.
Kingery should be your first bat of the bench but he'll be starting 3-4 games per week. Altherr is your primary back-up OF. I - and Kapler - are fans of giving guys regular rest and regular playing time. So, with his willingness to use his bench more and - as I've discussed this offseason - that it's a three-man bench after the 2nd Catcher... there will be ample playing time for others. You'll see most guys end up between 200 & 550 PAs as opposed to between 150 & 650 PAs during the Charlie Manuel era. Lack of embracing BBs and especially less playing time for the bench did hurt Charlie and his team during the post-season and late in his tenure.

Kapler, find the balance between analytics and traditions like the eye test. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Dear Mr. Kapler

Dear Mr. Kapler,

I appreciate that you are going to listen to the fans and that there is a plan. Those will go a long way in gaining (regaining?) respect in Philadelphia. I'm no expert but it doesn't take a baseball wizard to see that there are risks to this plan and there are some experts who prefer Klentak's plan. Please implement that. Reviewing...

Do not pull Nola or Arrietta early. This will save innings later in the year. Each get 90 in their next start. Pivetta, Lively and when he comes up, Eshelman are good to stay in given their low experience. Two to three turns through the line-up for them. Velasquez needs to be given a four-start notice if he falters again or it's to the bullpen. He gave up a run on four outs and three runs on eight outs before he allowed lots of consecutive base-runners - what he did before that is a good starting point for a bullpen spot. That was not your fault nor is the absence of Hunter & Neshek and most of your long men. When they return, things will be better if you use these guys effectively. Most of the long men are going to be starters this year (typical injury & ineffectiveness-of-others depth). Those players in that category, when starting, will usually get two turns through the line-up but might be pulled early, then another long-man steps in. That's Klentak's plan. Oh, by the way, why did you not stretch these guys late in Spring Training?

I like the "eight-of-ten approach" to your line-ups but you might want to maximize run production early like Franco needed to start against Harvey tonight (Maik is 3-for-8 against him) yet I understand the need to give opportunities to Kingery and Franco is the perfect (probably only) candidate from which to take ABs - Crawford might also be a candidate depending on how things go. And for late games, I'm ok with the need for best defense but Hoskins' bat is too important to take out late. Move him to 1B instead - Santana is similar offensively to Rhys but Rhys is more likely to out-OPS Carlos than vice versa plus Santana's defense at 1B is rumored to be similar to Howard. All this - and the Utility and RF platoons - will become clearer late. Equal opportunities dependent on age & experience!

I wish you luck. I really do. This year is a turning point in the rebuild. The guys played .500 ball from the All-Star Break on. We need to maintain that to attract free agents. Also, what will deter them is them being on a short leash, regardless of team success and financial benefit. We maintain that, get a few break-outs and supplement that in July and the coming winter, we have the postseason made in 2019. Heck, what we have now could get us the Wild Card (and yes, you do have to push for the division!), but only if we take advantage of an easy schedule at first. Each month gets progressively harder for two reasons: more series vs. last year's playoff teams plus the grind of a 162-game season. Keep that perspective! I love the boldness. I love the messages. I definitely think some change is needed and some unconventional things need to be done but temper it. Not everyone is into it - fans, players or even executives. Know when. And my view of leadership is knowing what to say AND - more importantly - whether to say. it.

Humbly

Jaron